How much worse can it
get? After a horrifying week, the Israelis have arrived once
again at our doorstep. What now? Already we have experienced so
much terror and want.
When the Israeli strikes
first began, my wife and I were worrying about lentils. She said
we could not have lentil soup for lunch because there were no
lentils in the shops. Nor any rice or flour. Suddenly there was
a deafening noise, followed by a succession of blasts the likes
of which I had never experienced. Our house was rocking, the
windows rattling in their panes.
Panicked, we ran into
the small hallway. My sister-in-law, who lives upstairs, joined
us, frantic because her young daughter was not yet home from
school. Sari, a boy from the neighborhood, banged on our door
asking for shelter. He trembled as he told us that he'd been on
his way home from school in a taxi when there was a thundering
blast. The driver stopped the car and ran for cover. The
passengers scattered in all directions. Sari found himself
running aimlessly. The explosions seemed to be chasing him, he
said. Suddenly, he came upon people lying bleeding in the
street. He went up to a man, wanting to help him, and touched
his hand. It was nothing but a piece of burnt flesh. Somebody
shouted at him to get away, so he ran off.
The news came over the
telephone and the television. More than 200 people had been
killed and even more wounded in less than 10 minutes. The
numbers were climbing and the funeral scenes filled the TV
screen. Apparently F16s had dropped more than 100 tons of bombs
on crowded Gaza and had hit more than 300 targets in one
mission. The pilots must have reported back to their commanders
that their mission had been accomplished. But they never
reported the pain and suffering of the innocent people and the
fear their fighters had spread in the hearts of our children.
Noor, my stepdaughter,
was silent throughout the day. Then she suddenly burst out
alternately crying and laughing hysterically. She is a bright
girl with artistic talents. She wants to write poetry.
On Monday, the phone
rang. It was my friend Salam, asking for advice. His four
children, ages 11, 9, 7 and 5, had wet their beds the night
before. They'd mostly outgrown that a long time ago.
Three days after the
attacks began, Fawaz Abu Sitta, a professor of political science
at Al-Azhar University here, was declared dead on the radio. The
announcer said that the rubble of a bombed ministry building had
completely smothered his small villa. A friend who happened to
hear the broadcast alerted civil defense officials to search
Fawaz's basement. They did, and Fawaz was rescued along with his
wife, his children and his elderly mother.
This carnage goes on, as
does another humanitarian crisis brought about by the Israeli
siege of Gaza: a lack of medicines, bread, flour, gas,
electricity, fuel and almost everything else. The Israeli siege
has literally turned Gaza into a massive prison. All our borders
are sealed, so there is no way out.
By Tuesday night, Gaza
was like a ghost town. Its streets were deserted and people
didn't dare to come out of their houses.
The children suffer the
most, I think. They see the fear in their mothers' eyes. The
image of their fathers as a source of security is shattered.
Their fathers could not provide them with food, and now they are
unable to protect them. The rockets will eventually stop flying,
I am certain, but it may be too late for these children. To me,
the chances seem great that they will join
Hamas as they search for
a replacement for the father figure, someone to provide and
protect. In this way, Israeli actions will only strengthen
Wisdom tells us that
violence can only breed violence. Israel's brutality guarantees
that its people will not be secure. Israel may destroy much and
kill many in Hamas, but that is not the solution. Hamas was born
because of the occupation and won the democratic elections in
2006 because of false promises of peace and people's
disillusionment with the
Authority. Israel and its allies should address
Palestinian grievances instead of aggravating them by denying
justice and security and by violating basic human rights. Most
of the Palestinians in Gaza are here because they were expelled
in 1948 when Israel was created. Since then, we have not had a
day of freedom or of equal rights with Israelis. We can barely
feed our children or provide them with medicine, because Israel
controls everything that goes in and out. From where I sit, in
the middle of this barrage of bombing, Israel looks to be
increasingly living outside the norms of the world community and
outside international law.
I am not alone in
Human Rights envoy Richard Falk declared that what Israel is
doing is a crime against humanity. Former U.S. president
Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, former head of the
U.N. Human Rights Commission, have expressed similar views in
the past. Israel must be stopped.
It looks increasingly
likely, though, that before the missiles stop exploding, we will
have more days like last Thursday, when a family that lives
across the street came to our house. They had gotten a phone
call telling them to evacuate because their home would soon be
bombed. Israelis sometimes make these calls, but you can't
always be sure what will happen. Some houses are actually bombed
after such messages. But some are hoaxes.
Our neighbors stayed
with us for a couple of hours before they found out that the
threat was just a joke -- a very dark kind of humor.
Then on Friday we got
word that my stepdaughter's friend -- a Christian -- had died
from wounds she had sustained earlier in the week. Noor spent
the day crying.
So many people have left
their homes. The people who live near
the Hamas leader, have fled. The entire neighborhood is empty.
I'm scared, but I'm
staying put, though I am fearful of what's next. I'm worried
about what will happen next, the serious bloodshed that will
surely follow as the Israeli forces come through on land.
Hamas fighters will be
battling from homes, in the streets, in the neighborhoods where
Eyad El-Sarraj, a
psychiatrist, is the founder and president of the Gaza Community
Mental Health Program and a commissioner of the Palestinian
Independent Commission for Human Rights.
The Washington Post,
Sunday, January 4, 2009